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Convoluted Agreement Forms: The Roots of Privacy Destruction

By Heshy Friedman

Privacy Destruction - Facebook Thumbs Down

As more details emerge regarding the recent Facebook scandal with Cambridge Analytica, there is an increased outrage on how much data Facebook has about their users, and how much of that information is given to advertisers. More details are coming to light on the extent of the personal data that Facebook shares, and some of this information is outright scandalous.

Some of the items that Facebook is mining from phone records are contacts, a log of all sent and received text messages, and a record of calls to contacts and their duration. All this information is shared with Facebook’s advertisers who are paying for this info to try to tailor their services towards intelligent advertising.

Facebook has a public web page that lists all the information they capture and share about their users. They are not keeping this a secret, but it’s deep down on their website, and one wouldn’t know to look for it unless aware of it. The complete list of items can be found at the following page on Facebook’s site: https://www.facebook.com/help/405183566203254

It’s well worth checking out this huge list, to see the extent of importation being captured and stored about you!

Facebook also allows users to download a zip file that contains the entire record of information that it keeps on their profile. The instructions to download this file can be found on the following page: https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/180237885820953

The instructions provided on this page are as follows:

To download a copy of your Facebook data:

  • Click    at the top right of any Facebook page
  • Choose Account Settings
  • Click Download a copy of your Facebook data at the bottom of the page.

It’s fascinating to me that Facebook openly provides this information, but the shock of the depth of the information and personal data they are mining from users is only coming out now with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It is wrong and outright immoral for Facebook to take such sensitive information and provide it to other companies without most users even knowing about this. Such a depth in the intrusion of privacy is an absolute travesty.

However, the source of the issue lies with the ridiculously long agreement forms that our society are accustomed to signing off on or checking off without reading in detail. If one reads the tiny and endless text on these agreements, they will notice all information is disclosed, but in reality who reads all that poorly worded jargon? These long and ridiculous agreement forms are a major flaw in our legal system and really need to be changed to be more effective. With a continuing reliance on technology, and our privacy being increasingly compromised with a digital footprint, it would be prudent to restructure the way these excessively long and convoluted agreement forms are constructed.

When designing websites, there is a concept known as KISS. This is an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid! The idea is to keep things simple and easy for people to follow, so they have a positive browsing experience and find what they are looking for. It’s too bad these principals are not a standard with legal agreements, especially when privacy is concerned. The longwinded and rambling agreements with their tiny text that nobody understands, and are then signed or checked off, needs to be changed. A summary of the main points for dummies that is noticed and easily discernible needs to be provided instead.

Until we change this current legal policy, these types of invasions of privacy will continue to occur, and increase. This problem needs to be fixed from the bottom up, from the agreement. If the general population understands the ramification, and does not agree to manipulative privacy violations, perhaps these problems would be avoided.

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